Gender pay gap reporting: the sequel

5 Apr

Last year I wrote about the advent of gender pay gap reporting, with a little help from the Undertones.  Today gender pay gap reporting enters what might be called its difficult second album stage.  As it’s an annual event, we have to ask has anything changed since last year?


In short, not much.  The headline figures show that the overall gender pay gap has remained virtually static, moving from 9.7% to 9.6% this year; sector-by-sector analysis published in the Guardian shows that the gap has in fact widened in most industries. Like last year, almost four fifths of companies pay men more than women. Overall, 48% of companies reported a smaller gender pay gap this year, meaning that in 52% of cases, the gap remained the same or grew wider still – as for so many issues in the UK, the gender pay gap presents a divided picture.


Some of the industries with the highest proportion of female workers report some of the biggest gender pay gaps.  Although education and care are resolutely female-dominated, a private care home provider and two academies trusts reported amongst the biggest gender pay gaps of all, with women earning 33p or less for every £1 earned by men.  This is indicative of women on the frontline, in relatively low-paid sectors, who are managed by senior men.  These figures point to a lack of progression in many traditionally female roles, with men getting more opportunities for promotion, or being recruited from outside to take on executive posts.  


The pattern of job mobility at senior levels currently seems to favour men’s careers.  In my blog on last year’s figures, I wondered if the relatively high gender pay gaps in public sector organisations (often majority women, and yet often with men at the top) might be explained by women being retained in posts with flexible working, but where their chances of promotion were weaker.  Writing about the civil service, Jane Dudman shows that pay structures work against women looking to move into more senior roles.  There is a cap on internal pay rises which disproportionately affects women, as they are less likely to leave for private sector jobs. When men do this, it can be a route back into senior civil service posts, when they return on much higher salaries, increasing the pay gap between men and women.  This explains why in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, female directors who have risen from within the civil service, are paid less than male directors who have come from higher-paid roles outside. 


You might say why don’t women just do the same as men and move around to enhance their pay?  The answer, I think, gets to part of the heart of why gender pay gaps are hard to shift overnight.  While the civil service, local government and health service jobs may offer flexibility, often to acknowledge women’s caring work at home, they do not promote these flexible workers as often as might be expected.  The lure of the well-paid outsider is often hard to resist when recruiting at senior levels. And the women maintaining their careers through flexible working arrangements often find it difficult to move outside, as they may not get the same deal on flexibility elsewhere.  The answer may lie, therefore, at least in part, in enhancing parental leave and flexible working arrangements for men.  If all working parents routinely take some time to accommodate family life, then the gender pay gap may be encouraged towards equality. 


Today also marks the fourth anniversary of the UK’s shared parental leave policy.  As I have written in the past, the model we have here is far from ideal, in that it does not include a freestanding period of leave for fathers.  The Nordic countries are exemplars of the impact that more equal leave structures can have – in Sweden, men take up a quarter of all parental leave days and have a ‘daddy quota’ which is theirs alone, and lost to the family if they do not use it.  Sweden enjoys very high rates of maternal employment. However, Sweden still has a gender pay gap, explained by familiar patterns of men entering higher-paid sectors of the workforce, and working full-time in greater numbers.  Even at the vanguard of culture change, work towards equality remains to be done. 


Back in the UK, gender pay gap reporting has driven the debate around gender inequality at work up the agenda and ensured that the conversation about the factors underlying the figures is high-profile.  If we are to move beyond talk into transformative action, we need to strengthen the incentives towards concrete action to narrow the gender pay gap. Perhaps every five years companies should be held accountable for their action plans.  These narrative accompaniments to the gender pay gap figures are currently produced voluntarily, and it could be that giving them more teeth is a further steer in the right direction, as the Fawcett Society has suggested.  The gender pay gap tells us a lot about the value we give different types of work, and how we accommodate caring for children and family members alongside formal employment.  To level the playing field between men and women we need to take more than baby steps. 



Who figures?

14 Mar

Time for another in my occasional series on issues of representation and parliamentary Select Committees.  This one concerns the grandly-named Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).  It works to examine constitutional issues, and quality and standards in the Civil Service.  This is important stuff, with relevance to public services and government accountability, as well, of course, to the trifling matter of Brexit …


Among its current inquiries, is one into Governance of Statistics.  This looks at how the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) is performing, in its role to promote, and to safeguard, official statistics, collated ‘for the public good’.  UKSA oversees government statistics, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the regulatory body which is responsible for the quality of statistics. The stated mission of the official statistics system is to ‘mobilise the power of data to help Britain to make better decisions.’  This mission affects us all – from considering which data to collect in order to inform decisions, through to interpreting statistics.  Official statistics, then, are an essential component in informing government policy and spending decisions, which cover all aspects of our lives. 


It’s therefore surprising, as Hetan Shah, head of the Royal Statistical Society, pointed out on Twitter, that, so far, PACAC has taken evidence from 8 men, with a further two slated to appear at the next evidence session.  Not a single female witness has appeared so far during this inquiry.  Shah referred to Caroline Criado Perez’s book on the gender data gap, which has just come out, and illustrates powerfully how women become invisible in systems where decisions are made on the basis of ‘default man’ – the average male.  His needs are met in everything from phone design to town planning, from drug formulation to public sanitation.  By overlooking the different physiques and lives of women, decision-makers can create systems with unintended consequences for women – from long toilet queues to medicines that don’t work effectively; from awkward phones to cars and public transport systems that are less safe for women.  Gender is an essential part of the picture, in deciding what is measured, and whose needs are catered for.


In response to Hetan Shah, the Chair of PACAC, Bernard Jenkin, threw up his hands and apologised, admitting that the Committee had got the balance wrong on this occasion.  In extended comments to Civil Service World, he said that the Committee had invited female experts to appear, but should have done more, when the women they approached initially were unable to attend.  Current guidelines state that 40% of witnesses appearing at Select Committee evidence sessions should be women. Clearly PACAC has fallen short this time.  


It’s not as if well-qualified women are absent from the field.  Ever since Florence Nightingale famously charted the causes of mortality among soldiers in the Crimean War, women have played a role in the statistics profession. Indeed, two of the four most recent UK National Statisticians, heading up the government statistical service, have been women.  However, economics and public policy as a whole, remain male-dominated at senior levels.  The Office for National Statistics itself, recently lost a sex discrimination case brought by a female economist who was overlooked for promotion, without being interviewed.  The ruling suggested that the ONS still has work to do, in providing equal opportunities for women.  It seems that we don’t just need better data, but better working cultures too.  In achieving this, women’s voices count. 



Mrs May’s Valentine (with apologies to Robert Burns)

14 Feb

My Deal is like a red, red rose

That’s sprung up in November

That makes it out-of-season

Like the EU veg we’ll remember


So fair art thou, my bonnie Deal

So intransigent am I;

That I will love thee still, my Deal

When the sands of time run dry


Till the sands of time gang dry, my Deal

And the rocks fall off the cliff;

I will love you still, my Deal

When the ships of trade don’t shift


And fare thee well, my only Deal!

Ah fare thee well awhile!

And I may come again, my Deal

Though jams clog every mile




Gender Gap or Gender Chasm?

29 Jan

It’s tough at the top – especially if you’re a man on top of everything.  That appears to be a message coming down 5000 feet from the latest meeting at Davos.  Last week, world leaders, CEOs, civil society players and high-profile activists, attended the annual World Economic Forum meeting, to respond to the problems of the world – and one of those problems seems to be working with women.  Yes, ‘Davos man’ has apparently declared that one of the consequences of the ‘Me Too’ movement, is that men just don’t know what to do around female colleagues any more.  It’s been reported that powerful men now feel that they cannot mentor women, or spend time alone with female colleagues, for fear of being misconstrued, or accused of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.


The other day I was reading an article discussing the gap between rhetoric and reality concerning climate change at Davos.  While a lot of serious discussion goes on, it’s in a context where many have flown into Davos on private planes, and many represent corporations which are far from carbon-neutral in their activities.  Similarly, in matters of gender, Davos can be seen as doing a lot of talking, with less obvious real-world consequence.  To its credit, the Forum publishes a Gender Gap Report every year, which has become a focus for discussion of the (snail-like) pace towards global gender parity.  However, the Davos forum has struggled to shift the dial much in terms of gender balance: this year, 22% of attendees were women, and so progress towards equality is agonisingly slow.  The average age of women attending is 49 – five years younger than for men – and just short of the age at which a French novelist recently declared that women become ‘invisible’.  So older women are thinner on the ground at Davos than older men, and younger ones may not get the same opportunities to network with senior people as their male counterparts.  If even a small proportion of the 78% male delegates feel that working closely with women represents a reputational risk, nothing is likely to change very fast for working women.


Perhaps you might say this is all irrelevant, as Davos represents an elite whose days are numbered; we should look elsewhere for transformational ideas.  That may be true, but it remains the case that women go to work every day in companies and organisations shaped by ‘Davos Man’.  It’s also the case that in spite of the reference made to ‘Me Too’, these issues around gender in the workplace have been going on a lot longer.  It was as long ago as 2002 that the now US Vice President, Mike Pence, told The Hill that he never dined alone with women other than his wife; and a 2015 survey of American political staff found that women reported not being allowed to drive their bosses or attend events alone with them; one said that in 12 years she’d never had a meeting with her boss with the door closed.  These types of rules can only create an unequal workplace, with women deprived of opportunities and access, in environments where men hold most of the power.  Although in Britain and Europe there may be less rigidity about meetings after work, or one-to-one contact between professional men and women, we are hardly free of workplace inequality between man and women, or, regrettably, of instances of sexual harassment. And the implication that the ‘Me Too’ movement, or more open discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace, has somehow made life difficult for men, has been voiced here as well – notably on the BBC’s Today programme. 


So what to do? In the case of the gender gap, perhaps it’s quite simple: as I was reminded by another blog this week, maybe it’s just a matter of remembering ‘the radical notion that women are people’.




The other leave vote ….

7 Jan

Amid our current political turmoil, a vote concerning leave has largely escaped major attention.  With collective energy absorbed in the consequences of the vote to Leave the EU, a cross-party delegation of MPs will shortly be meeting with the Speaker to urge him to introduce a system of ‘baby leave’.  This will enable pregnant women MPs, and new mothers and fathers, to vote in parliament by proxy.  Following a debate last February, plans for proxy voting – which would allow new parents to nominate a colleague to vote on their behalf – were approved, but have since failed to be implemented.  In spite of high-profile support for the measures, including from ‘mother of the House’, Harriet Harman, and the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, progress has ground to a halt.


This may not seem like the most pressing issue to stressed politicos contemplating Brexit, but the baby leave system (or current lack of it) could come into sharper relief in the tense months ahead, as there are currently 4 pregnant MPs, and they will wish for their voices to be heard in the crucial votes deciding Britain’s future, which will dominate this parliamentary session and beyond.  Moreover, for those with concerns that leaving the EU may diminish workers’ rights to entitlements including maternity and parental leave, it sends a bad signal to see our political representatives lagging behind much of the rest of the workforce, with no official leave system, at such a critical time in politics.  In this context, it is not surprising that the women’s caucus in parliament is advocating that the system be subject to a trial,  beginning as soon as 1st February, when a short number of weeks remain before the exit date for leaving the EU, on 29th March.


Quite apart from Brexit, it is striking that the British parliament has moved so slowly on this issue.  In the February debate on baby leave, Tulip Siddiq pointed out that Swedish, Danish and Slovenian representatives in parliament are entitled to up to 12 months of parental leave, as are those in Finland, Estonia and Latvia.  In other countries such as Belgium, Portugal, Croatia and the Netherlands, the maternity leave system is not formal, but members can be replaced by a political colleague while taking leave. In Israel, there is 12 weeks of parental leave available to both mothers and fathers.  The Czech Republic has also recently introduced a system of parental leave for parliamentarians, and Iceland, a world-leader in gender-equal parental leave, also allows proxy voting.  In Australia, proxy voting is available to nursing mothers.  So the international precedent is there. Britain shares a lack of formal leave system with the European Parliament, and a video of the Swedish MEP Jytte Guteland, bringing her baby into that chamber to vote, went viral.  She has spoken in favour of making parliaments more family-friendly, which is a significant element in global initiatives to make parliaments and political life more open to women and more gender-sensitive.


Back in Britain, the lack of proxy voting also raises the question of regional inequalities.  If the only way to vote is to bring your baby with you to Westminster, it is clearly more difficult if you commute from constituencies in, for example, the far North or West of England or Scotland. At a time when it is vital that all the UK’s voices are heard, the other leave vote matters.




2018: Some Awards

31 Dec

2018 has been an epic year.  It seems only fitting to round it off with some awards for outstanding contributions, and to rate some upcoming attractions.  And so, here are my awards for services to incredulity:


The ‘Nothing has changed’ award for improbable continuity, goes, of course, to:

Theresa May – for somehow ending the year as she began it, as a PM with a wafer-thin majority, an unclear Brexit deal, and no single obvious successor (yet) ….. How does she do it?


The ‘In denial’ award for CEOs of a scandal-hit corporations goes to:

Mark Zuckerberg for his annual letter, revealing that Facebook is doing great, and he has ‘learned a lot’


The ‘Highly un-Commended’ award for sectors with sexism issues go, jointly, to:

Charities and retail, for keeping the headlines going throughout the year


The ‘I just can’t help myself’ award for sabotaging the most banal PR opportunity, goes to:

Donald Trump for asking a child if they still believed in Santa, during a season of goodwill phone call photo opportunity


Looking forward, to events in the future

The award for least-anticipated event goes to :

Theresa May’s proposed Festival of Brexit – extensively mocked, for example here and here


…. And finally, the Shrodinger’s cat award for uncertain state, goes to:

29th March, 2019 – when the UK may be in the EU or out of it, as a result of an event which may or may not occur….

Happy New Year everyone!



100 years of women’s representation: what’s changed?

14 Dec

14th December 2018, marks 100 years since the first election where women could vote in this country.  Throughout 2018, there have been commemorative events marking the centenary of (some) women’s suffrage – women over 30 with property were the first to benefit.  It is not until 2028 that we will be able to celebrate the centenary of all women having the vote. Gradual progress over time shows how women’s rights have often been granted slowly, with the political system proving remarkably resilient in the face of challenges from women.

Among events held to revisit the path to women’s suffrage this year, was the ‘Voice and Vote’ exhibition in the Houses of Parliament, which I managed to catch before it closed in October.  It showed the sporadic progress of women’s campaigns for representation, and – perhaps less well-known – issues that remained once they were in parliament. The exhibition got me thinking about what has changed for women in public life over the century.

Women’s right to vote followed a struggle for women to gain the right to be in parliament at all.  In the early 1800s, women were prohibited from the public galleries, and activists would gather around a ventilator in the roof space of the old parliament, in order to watch debates. In 1832, Mary Smith compiled the first petition requesting women’s suffrage, but she needed a male MP, the radical Henry Hunt, to present it to parliament.  When he did, he was reportedly ‘laughed out of the House’.  Following the destruction of the old parliament buildings by fire in 1834, the new Palace of Westminster included a Ladies Gallery, acknowledging women’s right to see what was happening.  However, it was thought women would be a distraction to male MPs, so the gallery was enclosed by a grille, which meant that men could not see the women, and women’s view of proceedings was obscured.  The space was nicknamed the Cage.  In 1849, Barbara Bodichon, an activist who later founded Girton College, declared of the suffrage campaign ‘I hope there are some who will brave ridicule for the sake of common justice for half the people in the world’. It would take decades before the vote was granted, or until university-educated women could graduate on equal terms with men. In 2018, the power of ridicule is still apparent when women challenge male power. One recent example is US President Trump’s mockery of Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh. And just last year, a British survey found that a quarter of working women had been spoken to by management regarding their appearance, often on the grounds of ‘distracting’ male colleagues.

By the 1890s, Millicent Fawcett was prominent in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, becoming its President in 1907.  Direct action by the suffragettes, was also pressing hard for change.  There was a burgeoning poster campaign in favour of women’s votes, and an extensive use of cartoons and satire to support – or, often, to undermine – the campaign for suffrage equality.  In the Voice and Vote exhibition there were examples of campaigners portrayed as ‘harridans’, and other pamphlets, calling parliament ‘The House that men built’.  In the same week that I was looking at these items, there was controversy in CERN, when an Italian professor addressed a workshop on gender and high energy physics, saying that physics was ‘built by men’ – a contemporary parallel from another profession where men still predominate ….

Along with gaining the right to vote, came women’s right to stand as Members of Parliament.  In 1918, the only woman elected was Constance Markievicz, who was Irish, and did not take up her seat in the British parliament.  Nancy Astor became the first sitting female MP in 1919, and her candidacy raised familiar issues.  She had a plain back outfit designed so that attention would be paid to what she said, rather than how she looked.  Think of today’s conventional ‘pantsuit’ for powerful women, and many parliaments globally where women still put up with appearance-based commentary.  It took decades for women to reach any sort of critical mass in numbers in our parliament, and, initially, the only space made for them, was a small room known as the Tomb. Ellen Wilkinson, an early Labour MP, described it as symbolising the ‘aberration’ of female members – women weren’t given proper space as they weren’t viewed as equal occupants of parliament.

How far have we come? There are now over 200 women in parliament – around one third of the total, but still some way from half – and two women have been Prime Minister.  Issues relating to women’s rights have undoubtedly risen up the political agenda through female representation. However, some of the old problems remain – women are still less likely to be perceived as potential candidates, or to occupy some key offices related to ‘hard power’.  We haven’t had a female Chancellor of the Exchequer, and women MPs continue to face sexism both in parliament and the media.  So let’s look forward to a new century where we don’t end up asking how much has changed…..




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